Salvia divinorum is an herb native to Southern Mexico that produces mind-altering effects when smoked or consumed. The drug has a complicated legal status in the United States because there is no federal law prohibiting its use. Although some states list the drug as a controlled substance, many states do not regulate its use or distribution. This has caused many people to consider salvia to be a “safe” drug. In reality, salvia use can cause a number of physical and mental problems.
What does salvia do?
Salvia is often sold as a legal alternative to marijuana, but the drug is actually much different. The active ingredient, salvinorin A, interacts with opioid receptors in the brain similarly to the way that opioid drugs such as morphine and heroin do, though it targets different receptors and produces different effects. Salvia is considered to be a hallucinogenic drug, but its effects differ from those caused by other hallucinogens such as LSD or psilocybin (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Smoking or ingesting salvia causes short but intense hallucinatory episodes that include changes in visual perception, emotional swings, feelings of detachment and altered body sensations. The specific sensations and effects can vary widely by the user and the circumstance. Some users describe seeing visions or bright lights, and others describe suddenly being unable to move one side of their bodies. Others describe euphoria or feel like they’re sleepwalking. These experiences are not always pleasant and can become quite disturbing.
The dangers of salvia
While many users describe pleasurable sensations while using salvia, some effects can be extremely upsetting or traumatic. People in the midst of a high are generally unable to look after themselves and will require a sober person to ensure their safety. Some users pass out or are completely unable to move while under the drug’s effects. Others may act irrationally and attempt to harm themselves. The most dangerous moments of a salvia trip occur when the drug starts to wear off. Many users will begin to thrash about or have seizure-like convulsions. At the end of the experience, users may have no memory of the high or their actions (Live Strong, “Dangers of smoking salvia”).
The psychological consequences of saliva use can be equally harsh. The drug has been known to cause people with pre-existing mental conditions to relapse, triggering episodes of panic attacks, schizophrenia and borderline personality traits. Use of the drug can also cause suicidal thoughts, depression and dangerous mood swings. Due to the drug’s relatively recent increase in popularity, its addictive qualities are still being investigated. However, some researchers have compared the drug’s addictive properties to that of PCP, heroin and cocaine.
In spite of its legal status in many parts of the country, salvia use should not be sampled lightly. If you or someone you know has developed a problem with salvia, there is help available. Call the Texas Substance Abuse Helpline at any time to speak with a qualified professional about treatment options.